Conservation of Older Buildings: Techniques and Technics

This course will teach the understanding of existing building form and fabric and how to conserve them.  Where does one even start the evaluation process?  What is building pathology?  What are the significant properties of the various building materials and what are the causes of their deterioration?  How well do existing buildings perform and is enhanced performance always desirable?  Is there a difference between conserving buildings from the recent past (say the last 75 years) compared to older buildings?  What about the economics and the social issues of historic preservation?

At the GSD, as in most schools of architecture, students learn to design and understand new buildings.  Little mention is made of existing buildings per se, except as they create a context for the new building under consideration.  As our building stock ages and as sustainability becomes more important in the process of evaluation of a site, knowledge of existing buildings becomes more critical.  Indeed the reality of practice requires the contemporary architect to be facile in rehabilitation and adaptive reuse projects and in some cases landmarks.  In Academic year 2016-17, the parallel course that has been taught in past years by Mark Mulligan, DES 03349, Fieldwork in Conservation Design, will not be offered.

This will not be a course that delves into the details of the chemistry of materials and how they react environmentally, or building physics that charts dew points within the thickness of a masonry wall, or decorative arts that teaches how to peel back paint and match original colors.  All of these have their places in a more specific historic preservation materials conservation curriculum.  We will discuss the more general techniques as well as the principles of the technics involved in conserving older buildings, both historic and non-historic.  By the end of the semester, students will be familiar with the technical issues of present day conservation theories.  The course is open to students in all disciplines.

Guest lecturers  include  a preservation advocacy leader (Stephanie Meeks, President, National Trust for Historic Preservation),  a developer of historic buildings (Larry Curtis, President, WinnDevelopment), an expert in writing preservation plans (Dominique Hawkins, AIA) and a leader in preservation of modern buildings (David Fixler, FAIA).

Although the course will not be taught using case studies, references will be made to specific buildings such as the Amoco Building (Chicago); Finlandia Hall (Aalto in Helsinki); Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, Guggenheim Museum  and Wingspread; typical tenement housing; St. Elizabeth’s Hospital (Washington, DC); National Gallery of Art East Building (I.M. Pei); Trinity Church (Boston); Renzo Piano’s Harvard Art Museums) and Morgan Library; Farnsworth House (Mies van der Rohe in Illinois); Ellis Island.